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Seymour Papert Interview: 14 years ago...

A man fascinated by education & the possibilities of it in the future

An interview with Prof. Papert in 2004

Geraldine Doogue: Good evening, it’s Geraldine Doogue here with Sunday Profile, and something a bit different this evening. My guest tonight, I think you’ll agree, is a man way ahead of his time. Since his radical days in South Africa, his work with sociologist Jean Piaget, and on developing artificial intelligence, Seymour Papert has always been out of kilter with conventional thinking. And now he’s turned his attention to the education system.

Seymour Papert is a mathematician, and a professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was one of the founders of the famous Artificial Intelligence lab – which did the pioneering work on computers, way back in the sixties.

His interest in the brain led him to children, and how they learn. He worked with the Lego company, where he developed a line of robotic toys. But his most enduring passion is to give every child in his home state of Maine a personal computer.

In Australia the first wave of enthusiasm for computers in education has passed – why should technology should determine the curriculum, people say. But for Papert it is the old technologies of pencil and paper that are holding children back, and they should spend more time with computers not less.

Seymour Papert, welcome to Sunday Profile

Seymour Papert: Happy to be here.

Geraldine Doogue: You were involved in the cutting edge of artificial intelligence in the 1960s, what were your ideas then about how far computers could go in replicating human intelligence?

Seymour Papert: There’s a huge difference between the way people thought about artificial intelligence then and now. In those sixties, people in AI really thought in sort of galactic cosmic terms. We were interested in the possibility of some kind of artificial entity that would be as intelligent as a person and/or more intelligent. It was obvious, it still is obvious to me though, if you could make something as intelligent as a human it would be much more intelligent because there are many limitations that we have that a machine wouldn’t have. And if it could have all the things that we have it would have much more.

Geraldine Doogue: So this was very bold new world stuff?

Seymour Papert: It was very, very bold new world stuff. I mean, some people might say sort of crazy, arrogant…

Geraldine Doogue: Well, do you now think that as an elder of the tribe? Do you look back now and think ‘goodness that was the folly of youth’?

Seymour Papert: Oh, I don’t think it’s the folly of youth; I think it will come. What I think has become clearer is that we need some great new insights…

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